Letter from Poetry Magazine

Letter to the Editor

By Brendan Berls

Dear Editor,

Cheers to William Logan for his comprehensive and enjoyable take on the Philip Larkin’s Complete Poems. Mr. Logan clearly knows his stuff, but I do want to point out one detail that tickled the nerd in me: If it’s really new information to him that “Wild Oats” is autobiographical—that Larkin actually kept two photos of “Bosomy Rose” in his wallet—then Mr. Logan has either missed or forgotten one of my favorite descriptions of the poet, to be found in a book Logan himself reviewed in 2008 for the New York Times: Words in the Air: The Complete Correspondence Between Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell. On April 30, 1973, Lowell wrote to Bishop about having Larkin as a weekend guest at Milgate Park in Kent:

He looked older than T.S. Eliot—six foot one, low-spoken, bald, deaf, deathbrooding, a sculpted statue of his poems. He made me feel almost as an undergraduate in health, and somehow old as the hills—he is four years younger. I asked him about a poem, “Wild Oats,” where he speaks of a girl he met a few times in his twenties—a “bosomy English rose,” and had kept two photos of her in his billfold—and there the two photos were, her breasts invisible under a heavy coat, small, the same and no more than passport pictures.

I mean this in the best humor: If Mr. Logan is guilty of skimming a little in an eight-hundred-page volume he was reviewing under a deadline, who could blame him? Certainly not me—or indeed Larkin himself, who once said he liked to skip to the middle of biographies, to about the point in a person’s life when he or she starts to become interesting.

Originally Published: November 1st, 2012
Appeared in Poetry Magazine This Appears In